Category: Australia

The new Darling Harbour

Things are certainly changing at one of Australia’s best known tourism destinations, the Darling Harbour Entertainment  Precinct in Sydney.

The New South Wales government is investing $AUD 3.4 billion in the transformation of Darling Harbour, including the construction of an International Convention Centre at Cockle Bay.

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Photo courtesy Property NSW ‘Tenant News’

This work will include a series of marine structures such as a new Cockle Bay boardwalk that will run from the convention centre wharf to the Australian National Maritime Museum.

Construction of the boardwalk, which will include three floating pontoons, is expected to finish in early 2018. The convention centre wharf is designed to sharply boost the use of water transport within Darling Harbour.

An iconic new Sydney landmark

Meanwhile, another key  part of the revamp of Darling Harbour has received government planning approval and is set to deliver Sydney an iconic new landmark.

The Darling Exchange has been described as an “urban village” and will contain a host of mixed facilities including a new City of Sydney Library; a child care centre; rooftop restaurant; high quality residential facilities; and a creative and technology hub.

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Photo courtesy Property NSW ‘Tenant News’

When finished, the exchange could house up to 4,200 residents and two-and-a-half-thousand workers.

 

 

 

Aussie autumn

Australian summers are famous, conjuring up well known images of lifesavers on Sydney’s Bondi Beach and an outdoors and water wonderland.

But the land ‘down under’ also boasts plenty of magic as it moves toward the cooler months in the middle of the year.

There is a stunning quality to autumn in Australia, when the leaves change colour from green to yellow, orange and varying shades of red.

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Autumn there lasts from March to June and is a beautiful time to experience the diversity for which Australia is famous

We haven’t done a pictorial for a while, so here is a brief look at some of the autumn colours in our backyard at Newcastle, on the country’s east coast:

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Windsor, Australia: contrasts

Finding a greater contrast would be difficult.

Drive one direction and it feels like you’ve entered a time warp, whirling back to the early 1800’s.

Head the other way and you’re soon in a futuristic landscape of sweeping concrete and steel.

Welcome to the Windsor district of eastern Australia, an area that offers a snapshot of colonial times, with many grand examples of 19th century British architecture.

At the same time, the area also features Australia’s biggest public transport project, the sleek, multi-billion dollar Sydney Metro NorthWest rail link.

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Sydney Metro
Courtesy Plenary Group

This stark contrast between the old and the new, is a reminder that, although Windsor is a wonderful link to Australia’s colonial past, it is also on the edge of the Sydney beltway – a bustling, modern commuter channel.

But it was the Windsor of the 1800’s that we came to find.

Our ancestors were humble farmers in the area when it was Australia’s third city, a settlement established to provide fresh produce for the fledgling penal colony of Sydney.

Many of their graves can be found in the pioneer cemetery at nearby Wilberforce, which stands in the shadow of Australia’s oldest church, dating to 1809.

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Sue’s ancestors, in particular, hold a special and prominent place in the local community, descending from Australia’s first group of free settlers.

Thomas and Jane Rose and their four children – originally from rural Dorset in England – had arrived in the colony in 1793 and started farming in the Windsor area about 1802.

‘Rose Cottage’, their house at Wilberforce, built in 1811, remains the oldest slab timber dwelling on its original site in Australia.

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After exploring the pioneer cemetery, we headed for one of Windsor’s best known landmarks, the Macquarie Arms hotel, which claims to be the oldest pub in mainland Australia.

Sitting high above the Hawkesbury River, the pub certainly has an olde worlde feel, complete with resident ghosts – or perhaps that should be ‘spirits’.

First licensed in 1815 and operated continuously ever since, apart from the period between 1840-1874, the Macquarie Arms was built by convicts who are said to have constructed tunnels between the building and the river for secretly transporting illegal rum.

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Courtesy Macquarie Arms Hotel and Gary Bell Pub Sketches.

Whether it is really the oldest pub on the Australian mainland seems to depend on who you ask. Apparently, colonial Sydney was brimming with ‘sly grog’ shops and hotels from about 1800 onwards.

One thing is for certain: the old pub is just one of many colonial buildings in Windsor still in use.

These include the local court house, designed by famous colonial architect Sir Francis Greenway and built in 1822; several historic churches; Windsor post office; and any number of grand Victorian mansions.

And, to prove that the area was indeed a land of opportunity, there’s Thompson Square which was named after a convict pioneer who went on to become a magistrate at law.

Next on our list was a visit to Rose Cottage which is truly a priceless piece of Australian heritage, followed by a tour of the adjoining Australiana Pioneer Village which strives to promote the area’s history.

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The village combines historic buildings and demonstrations of traditional crafts.

Both these attractions are maintained by hard-working groups of volunteers.

Windsor is on the north-western outskirts of Sydney, about 56 kilometres from the city centre.

 

Reliving an historic night

Fort Scratchley, located at Newcastle, on Australia’s east coast, is the country’s only coastal fortification to have fired on an enemy naval vessel.

It occurred  more than 75 years ago, when a Japanese submarine shelled the city of Newcastle just after 2am on June 8 1942.

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On our tour of the fort and its myriad of tunnels and guns, we heard how the Japanese submarine I-21 rained about 26 shells and eight star shells onto Newcastle.

The submarine targeted key industrial plants such as the State dockyards and BHP steelworks – as well as Fort Scratchley itself.

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Luckily, no one was killed in the shelling, but the six inch guns at the fort fired two salvoes at the Japanese submarine before it disappeared.

It was the first time Fort Scratchily had fired in anger since it was established in 1882, in the aftermath the Crimean War, at Flagstaff Hill on the site of Australia’s first coal mine.

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But since then, the fort – which is now a fascinating museum – has fired its big guns in salute on many special occasions such as ANZAC Day and the occasional arrival in the port of HMAS Newcastle, the frigate named after the coastal city.

A special ceremonial cannon is fired at exactly 1pm each weekday, except Tuesdays.

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Fort Scratchley is a concrete record of the evolution of late 19th and early 20th century coastal defence strategy.

Today, the fort’s Historical Society preserves the military heritage, providing exhibitions and guided tours of the site and its amazing tunnels.

One of the most spectacular vantage points along Australia’s east coast, Fort Scratchley is open each day (except Tuesday) from 10am to 4pm.

Fort Scratchley is at Newcastle, about 104 miles of 167 kilometres north of Sydney.

Main photo of Fort Scratchley by Adam.J.W.C. (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Review: Australian National Botanic Gardens

Of all the attractions at Canberra – Australia’s bush capital – the National Botanic Gardens are among the best established and fastest growing.

Dating back to the 1940’s, the 35 hectares of gardens are said to feature about one-third of all Australian native plants.

Located minutes from the hustle and bustle of Canberra city centre , the gardens offer a breathtaking array of native plants in a spectacular bushland setting.

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On the lower slopes of Black Mountain, Canberra, the attraction contains more than 6,300 species and describes itself as a “living laboratory on plant classification, ecology and horticulture”.

At the same time, the gardens are a tourist attraction in their own right, providing a unrivalled display of colour.

There’s an informative visitors centre; free guided walks; a bookshop; eco spa; outdoor cafe; and a 45 minute guided shuttle bus called Flora Explorer.

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Numerous walks – some catering exclusively for children – are held through the site. For example, the Aboriginal Plant Use Trail, takes visitors on a trip of discovery through the plants that were used by Australia’s indigenous peoples.

The garden itself contains an area of rainforest; grassy woodlands; a rock garden; Eucalypt lawn and a section that specialises in plants of the Sydney Region.

Another feature is the ‘Red Centre Garden, which allows you to experience the unique landscape, colours and plants of Central Australia.

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The gardens also cultivate plants that are said to be threatened in the wild: thereby protecting against extinction.

This attraction started humbly in the years after World War II, when a range of Eucalypt trees were planted on the site. In 1949, during a visit by international foresters, a celebration oak tree and more gum trees were planted to mark the official start of the botanic garden project.

Development continued apace until the 1960’s, when buildings were constructed for the Herbarium and administration, and a nursery was established.

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By 1967, the gardens were opened to the public, with interpretive signs placed along the paths to complement the extensive labelling of plants.

In October 1970, the gardens were officially declared open by the Australian Prime Minister.

Australian National Botanic Gardens are in Canberra Australia. The gardens are said to be the only place in the world you’ll see such diversity of Australian native plants in one location.

Put some planning into travel photos

Photography should always be a part of travel preparation.

At the risk of saying the bleeding obvious, ensuring that you return with good photographs greatly enhances the travel experience.

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Photo courtesy GoPro

For example, we recently switched to what is broadly known as a ‘Wifi action camera’ and hope to take our travel photos to the next level.

We changed from traditional photography because fellow travellers told us that action cameras had dramatically improved their travel photos.

And, although we are still well and truly in the novice stage, the results certainly look promising.

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Photo courtesy Trevor DeHass and Pocket lint.com

For a start, ‘Wifi action cameras’ have an ultra-wide angle lens, which gives a totally different perspective – with far more surroundings in the frame.

The cameras are tiny, which allows them to conveniently and inconspicuously fit in a small bag or even a pocket.

Most give out a Wifi signal which can be linked to a smartphone or a remote control.

By watching the phone, you can view what the camera is seeing  – and then take the photo by pressing the phone screen.

If you wish, the photo or video can then be uploaded immediately as email attachments -or to Instagram or other social media.

We chose a GoPro camera, but there are other similar products on the market.

Many of the Wifi action cameras are waterproof to a certain depth (minus the smartphone) for use while snorkeling and have adhesive mounts that allow them to be fitted to a head, chest, wrist or ankle strap.

This is the reason for the stunning photographs – taken from almost unbelievable angles -that have become synonymous with surfing, cycling, diving and action sports in general over recent years.

Now they are moving into the mainstream photography world, where their small size and flexibility is appealing to photographers of all ages – even grey nomads like us.

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Photo courtesy GoPro

In our case, the camera is mainly attached to a more sedate handgrip that doubles as a tripod.

We don’t expect to be parachuting, ballooning, or riding bikes down a mountainside, but hope the technology and convenience of the camera will make it ideal for travel photos.

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Photo courtesy daily star UK

Keep watching and we’ll let you know how it works out.

One thing we have learned is that Wifi action cameras need regular charging, just like your phone.

And, because they can take multiple photos at lightning speed combined with high quality video,  it’s also wise to purchase a 64 or 80 gigabyte micro SD card (or two)

Wifi action cameras also change your thoughts on photo composition.

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For example, to get the best out of the wide-angle lens, you need to bring the camera closer and lower to the subject than normal. This gives the images a realistic and particularly striking appearance.

 

Watch for upcoming reviews of our camera and its effectiveness as a tool for older travellers.

 

Review: Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo, Australia

“Just pretend we’re in Africa during the wet season”.

Sue’s words brought a chuckle as we peered through steady rain and jumped ever-widening puddles at Taronga Western Plains Zoo, near the Australian regional city of Dubbo.

Covering three square kilometres of the central-west of New South Wales, Australia’s most populous State, the zoo is undoubtedly seen at its best in mild and dry weather.

It was anything but dry for us.

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We were there with two of our grandchildren – and were also anonymously seeing how well the zoo catered for older visitors.

In both cases, the attraction scored top marks.

Our grandchildren loved the open plains style of the zoo, where they were able to see the mainly grazing animals roaming, feeding and playing free from walls and fences.

Concealed moats divide the exhibits from visitors, creating the impression of actually being with the animals in the wild.

This feeling is strengthened by well-placed viewing platforms sitting even higher above the open ranges.

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Undeterred by the weather, the grandchildren donned rain ponchos and were pleased to find that, in most cases, the cooler, damp conditions encouraged the animals out in the open.

The zoo has an emphasis on animal conservation and we listened to a couple of talks about endangered animals and threats such as palm oil production to native habitat.

We drove our car around the zoo’s six-kilometre circuit road, stopping regularly to wander among exhibition areas containing lions, tigers, elephant, zebra, giraffe, rhinos, hippos, antelope, monkeys and otters.

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Despite the rain, we managed to see most of the park, which is said to contain almost 100 species from Africa, Asia, North America, Australia and South America.

Ideal for senior visitors

The second reason for our visit – to examine the attraction’s particular suitability for senior visitors – proved an easy task.

To its credit, Taronga Western Plains Zoo offers reduced prices for many seniors. Concessions apply for holders of Australian Pension Cards, certain Australian Health Cards and Seniors Cards.

See details.

There are a number of disabled car parking spaces located at the front entrance, as well as around the Zoo circuit.

If necessary, it is possible to see most exhibits from the circuit, but a few require a short walk on mainly flat ground.

The zoo hires both pushbikes and electric carts

Direction and assistance signage throughout the zoo is large, clear and easy to follow.

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Most of the Zoo is accessible by wheelchair and all-terrain manual wheelchairs are available at no cost through an advance booking service (02 6881 1400)

Identification is required, a disclaimer form must be completed, seat belts worn and the wheelchairs must be pushed by a carer/companion.

The African Savannah Tower is the only raised platform that is not accessible by wheelchair, however, that can be viewed from ground level.

Wheelchair accessible toilets are located around the Zoo circuit and in the entrance plaza.

The zoo has dedicated caravan and trailer parking inside the entry gates, along with a free mobile home service point.

There’s also no need to rush a visit to Taronga Western Plains Zoo, because the entry fee provides admission on two consecutive day

Getting there

Taronga Western plains Zoo is on the outskirts of Dubbo, New South Wales.

Dubbo is a five-to-six hour drive from Sydney via either the Castlereagh, Mitchell or Golden highways.

The Zoo is a five minute drive south of Dubbo on the Newell Highway. A public bus service operates Monday – Saturday.

See timetables 

Dubbo also has a taxi service,

By air

Alternatively, Dubbo is a one hour flight from Sydney, with a number of air services to and from Dubbo City Airport by Qantas and Regional Express

By train

The area can also be reached from Sydney by rail – a top about seven hours. Train services operate daily from Sydney. See how to book.